“A genuinely good heart is a heart that is open and alight with understanding. It listens to the sorrows of the world. Our society is wrong to think that happiness depends on fulfilling one's own wants and desires. That is why our society is so miserable...” (Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, Into the Heart of Life, Snow Lion: 2011, Chapter 9 ‘Practicing the good heart’)
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Sisters & Brothers of God's Beloved
If you want a boost to your self-esteem or to shake off feelings of not counting for much or for not being special to anyone, just read some of the Scripture passages appointed for this feast of the Baptism of Jesus! (Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17; 21-22)
The straightforward, undeniable love of “your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” fairly explodes in the reassuring phrases voiced by Isaiah, the prophet: “created you”; “formed you”; “redeemed you”; “called you by name”; “you are precious in my sight and honored”; “I love you”; “I am with you”; “I will gather you”; “[I] called you by my name”; “I created [you] for my glory”.
The Gospel passage from Luke portrays the heavenly identification of Jesus as the special object of God’s immense love through an epiphany, a revelation and manifestation of the mystery of God-in-Christ. There’s an in-breaking, an opening, of the heavens, a descending of the Spirit’s presence, and the resounding creative voice of the Father. Luke notes that “the people were filled with expectation”, and we can only imagine that in the midst of that crowd Jesus’ heart must have expanded with open anticipation of all that was about to happen. Some inkling of what direction his life was beginning to take as he was being led forward must have occurred to Jesus. Luke says “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened...” and the fireworks began! The Holy Spirit, in a dove-like form hovers over Jesus, and a voice proclaims: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Though it’s not one of today’s readings, St. Peter’s comments in Acts 10:34-38 complement both the messages of Isaiah and Luke: “...God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who stands in awe of God and does what is right is acceptable to God. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ who is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with Holy Spirit and power; how [Jesus] went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Adversary, for God was with him.”
Note that all this took place while Jesus was at prayer in the company of all who were gathered there. Luke portrays Jesus as a sort of disciple of John the Baptizer, accepting his baptism by water, a sign of repentance, as a mark of initial association with John, as well as a preparatory stage for his own thoughts of a preaching and healing ministry. Jesus associates himself with the universal reaction (“all the people”) to John the Baptizer’s call to “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3:8)
The bodily form of a dove which Luke associates with the Holy Spirit’s presence is a rich symbol from the Hebrew Scriptures’ tradition. The ruach Yahweh, God’s wind or breath sweeping over, hovering over (like a dove) the pre-creation “void and darkness” bespeaks a new creation. Noah’s sending of a dove in Genesis 8:8-12 also foreshadows deliverance and new beginnings. Deuteronomy 32:11-12 substitutes a hovering eagle for a dove as the metaphor, but the message of God leading the people in a new exodus is not lost.
The Father’s voice spells out Jesus' true identity and mission: “You are my Son, the Beloved...” Heinrich Schlier, in his book The Relevance of the New Testament (Burns & Oates, 1968) comments: “...And so [Luke] brings this epiphany into connection with another, that on the mountain of the transfiguration, which also took place when Jesus was praying (9:28ff). Luke sees in Jesus’ baptismal epiphany a reference to his glorification. From the very beginning of his journey to Jerusalem, which of course is his ‘taking up’ (9:51), Jesus sets out on it as one already secretly marked out in baptism for glorification.” The author of the Letter to the Hebrews expands on this by saying: “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters...”
What can we, as beloved daughters and sons with Christ, take away from today’s feast? First, God’s call is universal; we’re all invited. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” Just as with Jesus, God pours out upon us the Spirit to prepare us for the special call of our ministry, whatever that may be. In this personal and communitarian baptismal epiphany you and I are marked, identified, as God’s daughters and sons, God’s beloved ones. The sure sign that our ministry is authentic is that it bears all the marks of God’s presence: it takes place in the context of prayer. The message we bear is Good News which brings peace, the abundance of God’s blessing to the sisters and brothers to whom we offer it. The fruit of it all is goodness and love, healing and reconciliation.